Sermon for 5th Easter -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
WMD – Weapons of Mass Destruction – nuclear, radiological, chemical or biological weapons that can kill and bring significant harm to a large number of humans.
Although the term WMD dates at least back to World War II, at least for me, it was not very familiar until the 2002 ramp up to the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. Did Saddan Hussain’s Iraq possess such weapons? Many people believed it did, even if later evidence proved the contrary.
Regardness, WMD, Weapons of Mass Destruction, brings up terrible images of destruction, loss of life and fear.
Jesus, of course, had no Weapons of Mass Destruction, or what we would picture as weapons of any kind. In today’s Gospel lesson from St. John, this Fifth Sunday of Easter, Jesus described his only “weapon” - love. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Historians tells us that this is the characteristic that made the early Christian Church so popular and admired – In a culture that did not encourage care of one’s neighbor, these new believers, this branch of Judaism called Christianity, these people acted differently. They cared, not only for each other, but for the poor and outcasts in their community. Their love for one another was obvious and appealing.
Like Jesus, you and I also have no Weapons of Mass Destruction. Or do we? My friend, the Rev. Susan Sparks of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church suggests that our WORDS can be an equally scary and, perhaps, even more dangerous weapon. The human tongue can certainly be a WMD, a Weapon of Mass Destruction.
I have been thinking about the power of words a lot these last weeks and months. The current political campaign has certainly showed us the power of words, both negative and positive, well, mostly negative. At our Council meeting this past week, Council President Leonard Schulze reflected on the 8th Commandment, not bearing false witness, and Martin Luther’s positive spin on this commandment, we are to interpret what others say always “in the best possible light.”
Pastor Sparks points out that we all know about the damaging power of words. We've all been on the receiving and giving end of words that sting: words that tear relationships apart, words that tear families apart, words that tear hearts apart, words of anger, words of jealousy, words of resentment, insecurity or fear; words of prejudice, hate, or racism. Words that have manifested into violence from Charleston to Ferguson.
We all know about the damaging power of words both spoken and written. Our fingers are extensions of our mouths. Texts, emails, and social media postings can also be considered weapons. For example, did you know that 52% of our young people report being cyber-bullied? The old bully on the playground has now found a hiding place behind a computer screen. Even more alarming is a report by Yale University that found that bullying victims are up to 10% more likely to consider suicide. Whether it's spoken, written, texted, or tweeted, this arms race of words has to stop.
Jesus made this crystal clear with his words in the book of John: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35). Obviously, we can't live that legacy of love that Jesus commanded if we can't control our tongue and our words.
How do we control our words, these possible Weapons of Mass Destruction? Here are three ideas:
First, we need to take responsibility for what we say or write. Pastor Sparks states that we sometime treat words like she cooks spaghetti: short and sloppy, just throwing the noodles against the wall to see what sticks. And sometimes we treat words that way also - we just throw them out randomly and see what sticks. But unlike spaghetti, words always stick. They stick, and we can't take them back.
My so-called smart phone sometimes does very strange things with words in my texts – it autocorrects into words I sometimes cannot even recognize and did not mean to write. But, it is too bad we do not have a good autocorrect for our brains, to keep us from saying things we will later regret. Unfortunately, there is no autocorrect in life. Words we say or write stick and we cannot take them back.
The second way we can control these Weapons of Mass Destruction is to be quiet and listen. Psalm 141:3 says "Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips."
The reality is that as human beings we love to talk, to tell others what we think, and to lecture others about what is right and wrong. It's like the old saying goes: "Folks that think by the inch and talk by the yard should be shown the door by the foot."
The problem is that when we do nothing but talk we lose all opportunity to listen. The author Steven Covey explained, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply. In any conversation, there are two parts: the mouth and the heart. When we listen to reply, we're only listening to the words. If we are truly listening to understand, then we hear not only from the mouth but also from the heart."
The third and final way we can control these Weapons of Mass Destruction is to recognize that our words can change the world--for better or for worse.
Pastor Sparks remembers overhearing a conversation between the doctor and a patient in a waiting room. The doctor entered the room and without even a "good morning" said, "You are going to hate me after this surgery. It is one of the most painful procedures I do." Wow! Can you imagine the negative impact of those words on the patient? His family? His recovery?
But, Sparks also remembers seeing a father playing catch with his tiny son. The boy was just old enough to hold a glove, and the dad was standing almost on top of him so that the ball, when tossed, would be sure to land in his glove. After a few missed throws, the father basically dropped the ball into his son's glove and then exclaimed, "Good job! I am so proud of you!" Can you imagine the positive impact of those words on that little boy? It was like putting a positive footprint in the wet cement of that little boy's psyche. It's just as Proverbs teaches, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof" (Proverbs 18:21).
No matter who our audience, whether a child, a co-worker, a family member, a friend, or a complete stranger, people are hungry for love and affirmation. With every word we speak, we are changing the world.
Thus, the questions I leave you with are these: Do our words change the world for the better or for the worse? Do our words lift people up and leave them better than we found them, or is our mouth a weapon of mass destruction?
In today’s Gospel Jesus admonishes us to "love one another." Jesus tells us that it is by displaying love to and for others we will be known as his disciples. Let's make our words be tools of love, tools of healing, not hurt. Let's make our words change the world for the better.
(With thanks to the Rev. Susan Spark, Pastor of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City, for many of these sermon ideas and images, first preached on the Day1 radio ministry).
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Sermon for 5th Easter “C"
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
April 23 & 24, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California